University founder and president Jerome P. “Jerry” Keuper watched nervously as Jack Thompson, Hank Hughes and the team of Florida Tech groundskeepers hoisted the 20-ton, 64-trunk Phoenix reclinata onto the flatbed truck.
For years, Keuper had tried to persuade Norman Lund to donate the tree to Florida Tech. But Lund, one of Florida Tech’s first trustees, refused to part with the tree. It was his friend, and a fellow takes care of his friends.
He had watched the tree grow from a single, 5-foot frond since 1944. The majestic palm was located in front of Lund’s house across from the entrance to Melbourne Village.
At one point, Keuper went so far as to ask the 83-year-old to add a codicil to his will bequeathing the tree to Florida Tech.
Others wanted the tree, too. A Walt Disney World landscaper had offered him $10,000 for the tree.*
“I just never would sell it,” Lund explained. “The money wasn’t important.”1
However, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) decision to widen U.S. Route 192 forced Lund’s hand.
“The road-widening project would have taken half the tree away,” he said. “So, I thought I’d give it to Dr. Keuper.”
It took a day to move the tree to campus. Thompson and Hughes had prepared a place of honor for the tree in the center of the Academic Quad in front of the president’s office.2
Like the mythological phoenix, this tree has regenerated itself for nearly 100 years. Citing safety concerns over the tree’s sharp fronds, the university’s facilities operations department removed all Phoenix reclinata palms from campus in December 2021.
Lund and Keuper would have been saddened. For them, and generations of Florida Tech students, faculty and staff, the ancient tree was a source of inspiration.
Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees,” comes to mind: “I think that I shall never see a poem as beautiful as a tree.”
Rest in Peace, old friend.
Ad Astra per Scientiam
*One of Florida Tech’s urban legends is that there is a million-dollar tree located somewhere on campus. It is likely that this tree is the origin of this fiction.
1Tunstall, A. (1979, December 14). Tall Tree Takes University Trek. Florida Today.
2The Tree Story. (1980, January 16). The Crimson, p. 9.